Next Big Thing: How ‘The Sandman’ Star Vivienne Acheampong Went From Substitute Teacher to Starring on Netflix

Next Big Thing: How ‘The Sandman’ Star Vivienne Acheampong Went From Substitute Teacher to Starring on Netflix

“You never know when it’s going to happen for you,” says Vivienne Acheampong. Speaking from the living room of her London flat, the “it” she’s referring to is the often-elusive role or series of opportunities that establishes one as a regularly employed, in-demand actor — an actor who can leave the job they’ve been working to pay the bills. After several years supporting herself as a primary school teacher between acting roles, Acheampong hit that professional stride in 2019 as a regular on the BAFTA-winning sketch comedy show Famalam, and recently appeared at London’s Royal Court Theatre in Aleshea Harris’ revenge drama Is God Is. Next, she stars in the Netflix series The Sandman.

“I’m biased, but I think people are going to love it,” she says of the show, which is based on Neil Gaiman’s fantasy comic and sees her character, Lucienne, playing right hand to Tom Sturridge’s Morpheus. Ahead of the Aug. 5 premiere, she reflects on teaching and landing her current role.

You worked as a supply teacher, which we call a substitute in the States. What was your teaching style like?

I was very strict. The kids were always like, “Yes … supply teacher!” So I had to come in really hard and say, “I’m your teacher today, so you’ve got to listen to me.” I was strict, but I’d be crying on the inside.

What drew you to The Sandman?

I loved the whole concept, and I loved [Lucienne], who’s this calm, intelligent presence. I’m really interested in this theme of dreams, too. I’d just lost my dad about a year before this project came about, and my dreams became really important to me because my dad was in them a lot. I thought, “I’d love to get this part,” and then I bloody got it. Even now, I can’t believe it.

Vivienne Acheampong

Courtesy of Joseph Sinclair

You’ve done a lot of comedy — how was filming a fantasy?

It was a massive learning experience. I’ve never done anything like this and I’ve never worked with greenscreen. The first day of filming felt like a sketch of what it’s like to be on a film set.

Hair is such a hot-button topic among Black women. Have you always worn yours short?

No. I was always obsessed with my hair, like obsessed. And then when I lost my dad, I looked at myself in the mirror and I just didn’t recognize myself. It was really weird. So I went to the barber and cut it all off. When my cousin from Ghana came to see me, he was like, “Did you know that in our tribe, when women lose their fathers, they cut their hair?” And I didn’t know that.

Are you nervous about The Sandman premiering?

It’s scary, but Kirby Howell-Baptiste, who’s in the show, gave me such a brilliant piece of advice. She said, “Whatever happens, just remember how you felt doing the job, because that is what is going to stay with you.”

The actress as Lucienne, the chief librarian in the dream realm in The Sandman.

Courtesy of Laurence Cendrowicz/Netflix

Interview edited for length and clarity.

This story first appeared in the July 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.